English monarchs used to write legal decrees on rolls of parchment and then bind them up with red silk ribbons.
To give their work an important appearance, government bureaucrats copied the “red tape” practice. Not to be outdone, lawyers followed with ribbons of their own.
The expression took hold after Charles Dickens described the frustration of dealing with governmental and legal bungling as “cutting through red tape.”
And that’s why governmental and legal delays are called “red tape”.